Carnets Geol. 19 (14)  

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[1. Introduction] [2. Historical background] [3. Material and methods]
[4. Results] [5. Discussion] [6. Conclusions]
and ... [Bibliographic references]

Historical review
together with stratigraphical and taphonomical considerations
on the upper Pleistocene deposit of Arenal de son Servera
(Mallorca, Balearic Islands)

Rafel Matamales-Andreu

Museu Balear de Ciències Naturals, Carretera Palma-Port de Sóller Km. 30, Sóller, 07100, Illes Balears (Spain)

Published online in final form (pdf) on October 10, 2019
DOI 10.4267/2042/70497

[Editor: Bruno Granier; language editor: Stephen Eager]

Click here to download the PDF version!


The upper Pleistocene deposit of Arenal de son Servera is reviewed using data from earlier works and new considerations based on its stratigraphy and taphonomical aspects of the fossils. In the present study, five different kinds of facies are identified: [1] palaeosols with pebbles from the Miocene basement, [2] aeolianites, [3] foreshore deposits with thermophilous molluscan fossil fauna, [4] palaeosols resulting from the pedogenesis of the beach units, and [5] bioclastic channelled deposits eroding the underlaying units. The detailed taphonomical analysis revealed that the fossils enclosed in these rocks remained on the sea bottom for a significant amount of time, but they were not bioeroded, perhaps because a submerged sand bar repeatedly buried and exhumed them. In addition, the fact that Persististrombus latus shells are in their position of maximum stability allows to infer that they were washed up on the shore during moderately energetic events, possibly comparable to present-day ordinary storms. These two last points could be of interest to the field of coastal management, as they provide insight on the scope of physical changes these systems could undergo in the present warming of the Mediterranean.


• Mallorca;
• stratigraphy;
• upper Pleistocene;
• MIS-5e;
• taphonomy


Matamales-Andreu R. (2019).- Historical review together with stratigraphical and taphonomical considerations on the upper Pleistocene deposit of Arenal de son Servera (Mallorca, Balearic Islands).- Carnets Geol., Madrid, vol. 19, no. 14, p. 277-285.


Rappel historique et aspects stratigraphiques et taphonomiques du gisement pléistocène supérieur d'Arenal de son Servera (Majorque, îles Baléares).- Le gisement pléistocène supérieur d'Arenal de son Servera est révisé grâce aux données d'études antérieures et à de nouvelles considérations sur sa stratigraphie et les aspects taphonomiques de ses fossiles. À l'occasion de cette étude, cinq différents types de faciès ont été reconnus: [1] des paléosols avec galets provenant du socle miocène, [2] des éolianites, [3] des dépôts d'estran à faune de mollusques fossiles thermophiles, [4] des paléosols issus de la pédogenèse des dépôts de plage, et [5] des dépôts bioclastiques chenalisants érodant les unités sous-jacentes. L'analyse taphonomique détaillée montre que les fossiles contenus dans ces roches ont résidé sur le fond marin pendant un laps de temps considérable, mais qu'ils n'étaient pas bio-érodés pour autant, peut-être parce qu'un banc de sable marin les a recouverts et découverts à de nombreuses reprises. De plus, le fait que les coquilles de Persististrombus latus sont retrouvées dans leur position de stabilité optimale laisse penser qu'elles aient été drossées sur la côte lors d'événements d'énergie modérée, vraisemblablement comparables aux tempêtes ordinaires actuelles. Ces deux derniers points pourraient présenter un intérêt dans le domaine de la gestion côtière, car ils permettent d'observer les changements physiques que ces systèmes peuvent enregistrer à l'occasion du réchauffement actuel de la Méditerranée.


• Mallorque ;
• stratigraphie ;
• Pléistocène supérieur ;
• MIS-5e ;
• taphonomie

1. Introduction

The coastline of the island of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Western Mediterranean) comprises an outstanding representation of upper Pleistocene littoral deposits (Ginés et al., 2012). Aeolianites and palaeosols are perhaps the most widespread facies in most of the localities, and were mainly formed during the glacial periods, but they may also occur as lateral variations of beach deposits during interglacial intervals (Del Valle, 2015; Vicens, 2015). Comparatively rare as they may be, foreshore deposits are usually the most fossiliferous, and have been attributed to the Marine Isotopic Substages (Railsback et al., 2015) MIS-5e or MIS-5c (Cuerda, 1975; Vicens, 2015). The MIS-5e represents the warmest interglacial peak of the last 150 thousand years (e.g., Railsback et al., 2015; Lorscheid et al., 2017; Mauz et al., 2018; Polyak et al., 2018), and has classically been widely recognised along the coasts of the Mediterranean sea (see Cuerda, 1975, for references). A plethora of fossiliferous MIS-5e deposits have been described on Mallorca since the first detailed studies by Cuerda and Muntaner (1952), Cuerda (1957) and Muntaner (1957), especially on the south-west of the island (see Vicens, 2015, for an exhaustive review). Subsequent work on the northern and eastern coasts led to the discovery of many, yet usually small, fossiliferous outcrops (Morey, 2008; Vicens, 2015). However, some of them are often covered by modern beach sands, thus remaining mostly unstudied.

The aim of the present work is to review the upper Pleistocene deposit of Arenal de son Servera both stratigraphically and taphonomically. All earlier works dealing with nearby outcrops are reviewed in order to minimise the ambiguity on the name and extension of this deposit. Detailed stratigraphic description allows identification of subtle lateral changes in the different facies, providing a clear context for all the fossils recorded. Finally, a taphonomical analysis is conducted on the fossils, in order to distinguish any relevant patterns or particularities. This will contribute to the increase the knowledge of the Mallorcan upper Pleistocene fossiliferous deposits, and especially the ones located on the east of the island, which have been traditionally more poorly studied. Moreover, this new insight will allow comparisons between the upper Pleistocene and the modern coastal dynamics of that beach.

2. Historical background

Butzer and Cuerda (1962) were the first to study the marine Quaternary deposits on the East of the island of Mallorca. "Arenal de son Servera" is one of many toponyms that has a vast sandy beach, of about 1.7 km of maximum length, located near the Son Moro and Cala Millor residential areas (Fig. 1 ). The aforementioned authors claimed that the modern dunes covered post-Thyrrenian consolidated littoral deposits, perhaps equivalent to the ones described almost at the same time by Solé-Sabarís (1962) in Cala Millor. Butzer and Cuerda (1962) found a calcarenite boulder among the modern sand, which was deemed older by the presence of a fragmentary specimen of Persististrombus latus. No other author considered this deposit again until Vicens (2015). In 2014, a storm ravaged the coastline and removed the sand covering of the northern part of the beach, where Vicens (2015) found fossils of the bivalve species Arca noae, Barbatia plicata, Glycymeris sp., Donax sp., Acanthocardia tuberculata, Cardita calyculata, Chamelea gallina, and the gastropod species Persististrombus latus, Hexaplex trunculus, Stramonita haemastoma and Gemophos viverratus. They were embedded in the rocks that Butzer and Cuerda (1962) had considered as post-thyrrenian. However, the finding of the gastropods Persististrombus latus and Gemophos viverratus allowed Vicens (2015) to assign the newly found outcrops to the MIS-5e, and thus in the euthyrrenian sensu Cuerda (e.g., 1975). Vicens (2015) assumed that the boulder found by Butzer and Cuerda (1962) should also belong to these beds. Lorscheid et al. (2017) were the first to construct a stratigraphic profile of this outcrop, which they called Cala Millor. The outcrop they studied is also located at the southern half of the beach (see Fig. 1 ). They illustrated a specimen of Persististrombus latus, tentatively assigning the deposit to the MIS-5e. Juárez and Matamales-Andreu (2018) described another deposit bearing Persististrombus latus, but this time at the southernmost edge of the beach (see Fig. 1 ). They named it Cala Nau 3, and admitted that it could be a lateral equivalent of the Arenal de son Servera as described in Vicens (2015) because they could not study the precise stratigraphic succession of the deposit nor correlate it to bordering areas as they were covered by modern sand.

During the winter of 2017, a series of great storms overran the southern half of the beach, removing all the sand and completely clearing the outcrop for the first time in years (Fig. 2.A ). This allowed the author of the present work to thoroughly study the stratigraphic lateral variations of the deposit, as it remained newly exposed. A loose calcarenitic boulder with a fragmentary specimen of Persististrombus latus was found somewhere around the southern half of the beach (Fig. 2.B , see Fig. 1 for its location). The remote possibility of its corresponding to the one described by Butzer and Cuerda (1962) is herein suggested because: 1) there are no fossils from this locality in the Cuerda-SHNB (Societat d'Història Natural de Balears) collection (thoroughly reviewed by Vicens, 2015; pers. obs.), which probably means that the fragmentary specimen of Persististrombus latus found in 1962 was never collected; 2) the specimen bears modern bioerosion traces (Entobia isp.), on the exposed region only. This implies that the boulder remained on the sea bottom for some years until these last gales washed it off again on the shore.

Fig. 1
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Figure 1: Geographical location of Arenal de son Servera deposit, with indication of the stratigraphical profiles studied and other remarkable features. In the localities of Cala Millor (Lorscheid et al., 2017) and Cala Nau 3 (Juárez & Matamales-Andreu, 2018), Persististrombus latus fossils were also reported. Maps taken from IDEIB (2017).

Fig. 2
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Figure 2: A: General picture of Arenal de son Servera deposit, uncovered after the storms (winter-spring 2017). B: Loose calcarenitic boulder in which a partial specimen of Persististrombus latus with modern Entobia bioerosion traces was found. C: Limit between the two foreshore units, with abundant rhizocretions. D: In situ specimen of Persististrombus latus in the lower foreshore unit. E: Thalassinoides-like burrow in the upper part of the upper foreshore unit. F: Bichorded bioturbation trace in the upper part of the upper foreshore unit. G: Bifidipes aeolis in the upper part of the upper foreshore unit. Scale bars in cm for all the pictures.

3. Material and methods

For the present study, stratigraphic profiles of the deposit were made at intervals where the outcrop was particularly well-exposed (marked in Fig. 1 ). Thickness of the strata were measured with a tape. The base of each profile was determined by the base level of the wave energy on the 5th of March of 2017. The fossils recovered were deposited in the Museu Balear de Ciències Naturals (Sóller, Balearic Islands, Spain), abbreviated MBCN.

4. Results

4.1. Stratigraphy

Figure 3 represents the correlation of the eight profiles. Seven kinds of facies were recognised:

Fig. 3
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Figure 3: Stratigraphical correlation of all the profiles (1-8) located in Figure 1 , indicating the lateral distance between each of them.

Fig. 4
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Figure 4: Fossil molluscs of Arenal de son Servera deposit. A: Persististrombus latus, lower foreshore unit. B: Acanthocardia tuberculata, upper foreshore unit. C: Arca noae, upper foreshore unit. D: Stramonita haemastoma, upper foreshore unit. E: Aporrhais pespelecani, found ex situ. Scale bar: 1 cm.

4.2. Taphonomy

The Arenal de son Servera deposit, or at least is southern half, is one of the poorest upper Pleistocene littoral deposits in Mallorca in terms of species richness. For the present study, only specimens of the bivalves Arca noae and Acanthocardia tuberculata, a fragment of the gastropod Stramonita haemastoma and several shells of the gastropod Persististrombus latus have been found. This last species is the most abundant, with around the 70% of the total identifiable fossil content.

The fact that all the fossils are affected by abrasion, or some of them are even shattered, points to a sustained interval of underwater exposure before they were finally washed ashore. However, this is a curious case of a upper Pleistocene deposit on Mallorca in which Persististrombus latus shells do not show any traces of bioerosion. The only comparable situation would be the specimens in the Freu de ses Covetes deposit, which do not possess any kind of bioerosion trace either (Matamales-Andreu et al., 2017). Therefore, although the biostratinomic phase seems to have spanned a significant amount of time, no organisms were able to colonise the shells.

In addition, all the Persististrombus latus shells were found in their position of maximum stability, i.e., with their aperture facing downwards. Therefore, in the final burial event, shells were probably transported off the sea by a moderately low energetic episode. Studies on modern littoral dynamics (Tintoré et al., 2009; Gómez-Pujol et al., 2011) asserted that, in Cala Millor, the mean height of waves in normal climate ranges between 0.25 and 1 m, and in storms they can rise up to about 2.5 m. Assuming that coastal dynamics were somewhat similar during the upper Pleistocene, the episodes that washed off the Persististrombus latus shells should be of comparable importance to the hydrodynamic regimes in modern ordinary storms.

Besides, a loose shell of the gastropod Aporrhais pespelecani was found among the sand and debris on the shore (Fig. 4.E ). This species was recently recorded for the first time in the Mallorcan upper Pleistocene (Juárez & Matamales-Andreu, 2018). The specimen found at Arenal de son Servera is partially surrounded by a thin layer of well-consolidated greyish calcarenite. It is herein considered to be very recent in age (i.e., Holocene), the calcarenitic crust being formed in fast diagenetic processes such as beach-rock or calichification.

5. Discussion

The upper Pleistocene succession at Arenal de son Servera consists of several units laying unconformably above the Miocene basement. A basal lutitic stretch is overlain by two foreshore units composed of yellowish calcarenites, rich in thermophilous fauna (Persististrombus latus). The fact that there exist two, well-marked foreshore units may not be trivial, as they have also been recognised in other Mallorcan deposits of similar age, such as Es Carnatge or Ses Covetes (Vicens, 2015); however, it is beyond of the scope of the present paper to discuss this aspect any further. Bioturbation occurs frequently: rhizocretions, Myotragus tracks (Bifidipes aeolis) and other traces. Pedogenesis processes are also usual at the top of the beds. These units change laterally to aeolianites when approaching the southern edge of the beach, because the Miocene basement provided a slightly higher ground for the dunes to settle.

The lack of any kind of bioerosion traces in the Persististrombus latus shells was not the result of fast burial after the death of the organism. The biostratinomic phase lasted long enough, as demonstrated by the moderate degree of abrasion that affects all the fossils studied. They correspond to the degree 1 of abrasion in the sense of Domènech et al. (2009). Matamales-Andreu et al. (2017) studied the incidence of different kinds of bioerosion traces on Persististrombus latus shells on every upper Pleistocene Mallorcan deposit. The result of the Principal Component Analysis (Matamales-Andreu et al., 2017: Fig. 4) suggested that the presence of Entobia was negatively correlated to the presence of traces of other suspension-feeders such as polychaetes, vermetids or lithophagous bivalves. It was then tentatively interpreted to be related to the clearness of the water: because Cliona needs clear, well-lit waters to thrive (Bromley & D'Alessandro, 1984) and the rest of borers feed on suspended detritus, the lack of Entobia and subsequent relative abundance of Caulostrepsis and Gastrochaenolites could indicate more turbid waters. However, the specimens considered herein do not show any kind of boring. That indicates an unstable sea bottom, which either [1] periodically buried and exhumed the fossils, which never remained exposed long enough to allow the settling of bioeroders, or [2] although on the sea floor, the orientation of the shells was modified too often to permit the establishment of the borers. Although both phenomena could have played a role in avoiding bioerosion on the studied shells, the first situation might have been dominant.

In other Mallorcan upper Pleistocene deposits of higher energy (e.g., Punta Negra locality, see Vicens, 2015; Juárez & Matamales-Andreu, 2018), the Persististrombus latus shells appear with random orientations, and yet the bioeroders only colonised part of the shell (own data), pointing to the fact that those heavy shells remained relatively still on the sea floor, even in relatively high-energy conditions. Thus, the second situation seems unlikely in favour of the first one, as today there are submarine sand bars in the area, that migrate and change in size and shape over the year (Gómez-Pujol et al., 2011). These sand bars could also have operated during the upper Pleistocene, covering and exposing the shells, and therefore impeding any kind of bioerosion process to occur. Hence, in this case, the absence or presence of certain bioerosion traces cannot be related to such factors as clarity of the water as pointed out by Matamales-Andreu et al. (2017) for other localities on the island, but to a particular sedimentary environment.

6. Conclusions

Arenal de son Servera (Butzer & Cuerda, 1962; Vicens, 2015), Cala Millor (Solé-Sabarís, 1962; Lorscheid et al., 2017) and Cala Nau 3 (Juárez & Matamales-Andreu, 2018) are parts of a same deposit. Because most of the time it is covered by modern sand, authors have subsequently referred to each outcrop with different toponyms. It is herein suggested that all of them should be named under the oldest designation, Arenal de son Servera, to avoid ambiguity in future work. The comprehensive stratigraphical study of this locality allowed the present author to recognise lateral variations of the foreshore deposits: from dunes at the southernmost edge of the beach, to beds of plant colonisation, palaeosols and probably more modern channelled deposits with different faunal assemblages. It has been established that Persististrombus latus shells are distributed ubiquitously in all the foreshore beds, and therefore they all can be considered as part of the MIS-5e interglacial warm peak. Taphonomical analysis of the Persististrombus latus specimens concluded that all of them underwent a biostratinomic phase exposed on the sea bottom, which resulted in a similar abrasion degree on all the shells. However, unlike other contemporary deposits in Mallorca, bioerosion did not occur. The presence of a submerged, changing sand bar could explain repeated burials and exhumations of the shells, making it very difficult for the bioeroders to settle. This would support the idea that some of the variables regarding the coastal dynamics of that beach during the upper Pleistocene, namely, the presence of submerged sand bars, were similar to the present. Moreover, those shells were finally washed ashore in moderately energetic episodes, because all the Persististrombus latus fossils are orientated with the aperture facing downwards, in their position of maximum stability. Those events were most probably comparable to local ordinary modern storms in intensity. These two last points allow, up to some extent, the comparison of the coastal dynamics of the modern Cala Millor beach with a warmer environment (MIS-5e), which could provide insight on the range of expected changes that Mallorcan beaches may undergo in the present context of global warming.


To Sebastià Matamalas and to Sebastiana M. Andreu for aid in fieldwork. To Pierre Lozouet (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France) and to Thomas Lorscheid (MARUM - Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bremen, Germany), reviewers of this paper, for their thoughtful insight that contributed to improving the final version of the manuscript. To Bruno Granier and Stephen Eager, editors of the paper, for their constructive comments and effort editing the manuscript.

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